But go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” (Mt. 9:13, NIV)
These words of Jesus to the religious elite who were called to bring the people of Israel nearer to God and his ways (and tried to do so in a clumsy way that focused on legalistic observance more than righteous freedom) can almost seem like a well-deserved slam against these same religious leaders. But the context indicates something more like a loving directive rather than cold correction from Jesus.
He gives this religious group time to learn the meaning of what he has said. And later—the very next time we see interaction with this same group, there’s disappointment that they have not taken to heart his loving directive: If you had known what these words mean, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice,” you would not have condemned the innocent.” (Mt. 12:7, NIV)
What I love about these interactions is that Jesus himself doesn’t immediately move toward condemnation or open rebuke, but mercifully gives time to those who should know better to have a paradigm shift. They don’t, and it results in them beginning to to pursue the destruction of the one come to rescue them.
This interaction has me thinking:
How often do we measure our love for God by what we give up for God? Truthfully, it’s in the mindset of sacrifice where I have most often experienced offense with God. Thoughts like, After all *I’ve* been through, or, Even though we’ve given up so much,” creep in because there seems to be little movement in my circumstances (or, at least little movement toward what I think they should be) despite my best efforts at sacrificial obedience. Worse than being offended at God, I’m positioned to condemn the innocent rather than rescue the oppressed.
What would it look like, instead, to give away what has been given to me? There is no room for offense, no call for comparative sacrifice when we give away the mercy-gift given to us… because the mercy-gift came by way of greater sacrifice than we can fathom (much less compete with).
What happens in families when we choose to try and be the one who gives the most mercy away instead of the most sacrifice? In churches? In communities? So much of the tension in our organizations comes from a fight over who has to sacrifice their preference when a focus on mercy would naturally keep us from entertaining a victim mentality. Choose today to be engaged as a vessel of mercy rather than a storehouse of sacrifice, and I bet you’ll discover a greater joy in life.